A consortium led by Atkins, a member of the SNC-Lavalin Group, and involving Vertical Aerospace and the West of England Combined Authority has secured an industrial research grant by the UK government to look at the feasibility of an air taxi service in the UK's south west region before conducting a demonstration in a live environment.
The GBP2.5 million project has secured partial funding through the government's Future of Flight Challenge, which was created to find innovative methods of achieving greener flight, discovering new ways to travel, increasing mobility, improving connectivity and reducing congestion.
The project being led by Atkins, a design, engineering and project management consultancy, is expected to take 18 months and will comprise an assessment of the demand for air taxi services in the South West; development of use cases for the technology; and an evaluation of the integration and impact on the wider transportation network, including the region's airports, as well as the benefits to cities and residents. It will establish viable markets and businesses cases for these services and seek to understand public perceptions and attitudes towards eVTOL aircraft. These activities aim to culminate in a series of full-system demonstrations in live airspace across the region.
Atkins' head of advanced air mobility James Richmond says: “As we look to the future of travel, it's now more important than ever that we begin exploring more sustainable methods of transport within our increasingly populated cities. Bringing together the experience and expertise from across the consortium, we're excited to begin developing a fully integrated system concept, using the latest digital innovations. This an important and tangible step towards making advanced air mobility a reality, and by demonstrating that we can provide a case for air taxis, we could begin trialling these services as early as 2023.”
Atkins, in addition to managing the project, will provide whole-system enterprise architecture, develop safety cases and create processes for secure passenger identification management.
Vertical Aerospace, a Bristol-based electric aircraft manufacturer will explore vehicle integration, using its eVTOL air taxi. Skyports, an infrastructure provider for the emerging advanced air mobility industry, will be responsible for design, development, operation and airport integration of the physical infrastructure to enable safe and efficient air taxi services.
Vic Terry, head of digital systems at Vertical, comments: “Our ultimate aim is to make air travel green and accessible to everyone. This is a great opportunity to bring the consortium's products and services together, showcasing that air taxis are not reserved for science fiction but achievable to benefit both our cities and economy in the UK and around the world.”
Other consortium members include Altitude Angel and NATS, who will be investigating unified traffic management solutions and the integration of conventional air traffic control. Cranfield University will lead on the communication systems required to enable flight, particularly within an urban environment. London-based IT company Neuron will focus on interconnectivity to enable safe and efficient passenger movement. One of the British government's innovation agencies, Connected Places Catapult, will lead the research into public perception of air taxis, the ways this method of travel would be used and the expected demand on AAM as a service. The West of England Combined Authority (WECA), offers the backing of a regional authority and will help ensure plans align with the Joint Local Transport Plan and foster cross-sector collaboration between the project and the likes of the Future Transport Zone and 5G developments.
Tim Bowles, West of England mayor, said: “I want to bring the jobs of the future to the West of England and get our region moving. This air taxi trial brings both those ambitions together and is a significant step in cementing the UK and the West of England as leaders in air taxis. Doing things differently is in our region's DNA, and I'm proud we are once again leading the way on yet another exciting new technology, building on our region's global reputation as a worldwide aerospace hub and supporting our low carbon objectives for the region.”